KPFA: Benicians oppose crude-by-rail ‘bomb trains’

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Benicians win first victory in opposition to crude-by-rail ‘bomb trains’

KPFA Weekend News, 07.12.2014

On Thursday, Citizens of Benicia, California won a 45-day extension of the public comment period on the Draft Environmental Impact Report regarding Valero’s plan for bringing tar sands and shale oil to its Benicia Refinery. Activists opposing the shipments began calling them “bomb trains” after explosions around the U.S. and in Canada.

KPFA Evening News Anchor Cameron Jones:This week the Benicia Planning Commission voted, 4 to 2, for the 45 day public comment period extenion on Valero Oil’s crude by oil The town of Lac Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, burned for four days after a crude-by-rail train derailment and explosion. Forty-seven people died and some of their bodies were never even found. plan. KPFA’s Ann Garrison spoke to Andrés Soto, KPFA host, Benicia resident, and organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. 

KPFA/Ann Garrison: Andrés Soto, could you tell us what happened at the Benicia Planning Commission meeting on Thursday evening? 

Andrés Soto: Yeah, two things occurred. One was that the local group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community held a rally that was designed to commemorate the 47 people who lost their lives at Lac Mégantic a year ago. It was part of a national campaign along with Forest Ethics, as well as a rally before going into the meeting. 

KPFA: Regarding Lac Mégantic, that’s the community in Quebec where 47 people died after a crude by rail car blew up?
Soto: Crude by rail train.
KPFA: Train.Soto: A crude-by-trail train derailed, and a number of cars exploded, and the town burned for four days, and 47 people were essentially incinerated. Some of their bodies were never found.

KPFA: OK, what happened when you got into the Planning Commission meeting, in Benicia.Soto: Once in the meeting, the Planning Commission had to deal with a couple of ideas. One was whether or not to extend the public comment period from the 45 days it is now to 90 days, and that occurred on a 4 to 2 vote, so the public was allowed to have a longer public comment period.

Before the Benicia Planning Commission meeting on July 10, Benicia residents commemorated the 47 lives just over a year ago, when a crude-by-rail train derailed and cars carrying Bakken shale oil exploded in Lac Mégantic, Quebec. And the other action was, they started to take comment from the public on the Draft Environmental Impact Report on Valero’s crude-by-rail project. They only were able to listen to about five or six people by the time they got around to that at 11:30 pm, so the meeting is going to be continued, and the public will be allowed to give more testimony at their next meeting in August. The crowd was overwhelmingly anti crude-by-rail. The Valero forces were able to turn out a few folks, mostly from the building trades unions, but the bulk of the people who were there were opposed to it. There was also an opportunity for people who live uprail, in Roseville and Davis and Vacaville and places like that. They allowed those folks to actually offer their commentary first, before the Benicia residents, because they had come from such a long way.

So we think we’re in a good place right now and looking forward to the next meeting.

KPFA: If you’re opposing crude by rail, then you’re basically opposing the transport of shale oil and tar sands oil from the middle of the country, right?

Soto: Correct. Valero and Union Pacific have teamed up to begin to try to deliver Bakken crude and tar sands crude, Bakken crude from North Dakota, and tar sands crude from Alberta, Canada by rail down here since there is no Keystone pipeline to the West Coast. And in the city of Benicia, Valero wants to shift from getting all of its oil delivered by ships, at their port, and converting to getting it all by rail. And we believe this puts the CIty of Benicia and the surrounding communities and the Suisun Marsh at an unnecessary risk. And our position is that they ought to leave that stuff in the ground, that just because they can get it out doesn’t mean we want it. What we support is a just transition from a fossil fuel based economy to one based on the expansion of renewable energies.

KPFA: And that was Andrés Soto, Benicia resident and organizer with Communities for a Better Environment. In Berkeley, for Pacifica, KPFA Radio, I’m Ann Garrison.